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The trains that built America: Exploring the B&O Railroad Museum

Nearly 200 years of rail history at one of America's biggest train museums.

Geoffrey Morrison Contributor
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
3 min read
Geoff Morrison/CNET

There's a school of thought that railroads are one of the biggest reasons the United States is the country it is today. And if you trace train history back, it starts with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Begun in 1830, it would grow over the following decades, eventually becoming one of the largest railroads in the country. 

Though now part of huge CSX Transportation, B&O's history lives on at the B&O Railroad Museum in, not surprisingly, Baltimore. Housed in the massive and historic Mount Clare Shops roundhouse, there's nearly 200 years of rail history all in one place. 

From hulking steam-powered locomotives to streamlined art deco diesels, cabooses to coaches, there's a lot to see at this huge museum. During my 10,000-mile road trip, I stopped to have a look around. Here's what I saw.

Riding the rails of history at the B&O Railroad Museum

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One of the most difficult aspects for any train museum is the sheer space required. After all, even a small train is still a train. Most often museums use utilitarian train sheds, basically big barns, to protect their aging exhibits from the weather. The B&O Railroad Museum is fortunate enough to use a historic roundhouse built in the earliest days of the B&O Railroad. Today this massive building is an absolute stunner, clad in brick and decidedly, well, round.

Geoff Morrison/CNET

Inside, of course, are the real exhibits. Arrayed in a circle (or in the round, if you will) are beautifully maintained locomotives and railcars, including several that were in service during the Civil War. Outside there are a few more, including a diesel-electric that runs passengers on a short loop.

In a train shed adjacent to the roundhouse was my favorite locomotive at the museum, a streamlined locomotive called the Hudson. Despite its more modern looks, there's a fairly traditional steam engine underneath the gorgeous exterior.

Geoff Morrison/CNET

Outside, next to the parking lot, is a different experience. Here you find a variety of engines and coaches, rusting and beaten down by decades of exposure to the weather. They're in stark contrast from the exquisitely restored and maintained vehicles inside. As with anything, time, money and space are all factors in what a museum can invest in and what must be put off. Hopefully, these too will eventually be brought back to their former glory. 

Baltimore to Ohio

The B&O Railroad Museum is easily one of the best railroad museums in the country, if not the world. Railroads were a fundamental part of the growth of the United States, and nearly 200 years of that history is on display here. 

If you're not near Baltimore, or headed that way, check out the gallery above for a close look at many of these incredible, historic machines.

As well as covering audio and display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000-mile road trips and more.

Also check out Budget Travel for Dummies, his travel book, and his bestselling sci-fi novel about city-size submarines. You can follow him on Instagram and YouTube